Tim Arnold has given real work experience to nearly 600 at-risk youth over the past seven years, and he’s getting local and even national recognition for his efforts.
Founder of the nonprofit LawnLife
, Arnold employs young people ages 16-24 who face multiple hardships in their life and gives them an opportunity to earn a paycheck working in lawn care, landscaping and construction. The work gives them a chance to feel valuable, learn new skills and advance in a trade while earning money, empowering them through economic opportunity, education and accountability.
After winning Social Venture Partners’ Fast Pitch
in February, LawnLife recently went to the Philanthropitch International
competition in Austin, Tex., where the company was honored as one of the 10 “brightest social innovators” from across the U.S. and Canada.
Perhaps Arnold’s model is working so well because of the founder’s connection to the youth he employs.
“I’m very passionate about these kids because I was
these kids,” he says. “I did whatever I could to survive, so I understand what these kids have been through.”
In his own youth, Arnold says, he had trouble with the law many times while trying to survive. What finally enabled him to turn his own life around was his first legitimate job opportunity in construction.
“I applied myself to that job,” Arnold explains. “I started working work.”
He says he began to appreciate the importance of work life, staying late and learning trades from supervisors, and eventually saw the rewards of that work.
That first job started an upward spiral for Arnold. In a few years, he was able to get a real estate license and started rehabbing houses on the side. It was on those rehab jobs that Arnold started hiring young people off the street, trying to give them the same opportunities and instill the value of hard work that had made such a difference for him.
The effort quickly grew into a comprehensive, multi-tiered program. As Arnold hired more youth who wanted to keep working, he started taking them out to mow lawns and do yard work in the community. It soon grew into a nonprofit organization that works with many other area services to reach young people to employ.
“They don’t understand we’re trying to help them,” Arnold says, adding that his young employees take the program seriously as a job rather than a service provided to them.
But LawnLife does help the youth they employ as well as the communities in which they work. Although the employees do lawn care and construction for clients who can pay market rate, Arnold also finds ways to “pay it forward” and clean up community spaces or offer lawn mowing to residents who might not be able to afford to pay for a lawn mower or what a professional company might charge.
Even though LawnLife is getting calls from all over the country and the model might take off elsewhere, Arnold is focused on Cincinnati and making an even bigger impact on the city’s landscape.
“If I can keep one less kid off the nightly news, I’m doing a good job,” he says. “There’s more bad yards than bad kids, I guarantee you.”